Summary: Isaiah preaches the law to the Israelites who had abused God’s gifts to them in the vineyard.
October 2, 2005 Isaiah 5:1-7
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.” The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Isaiah decided to sing a song in today’s text. I don’t know if he had a very good voice or not. I don’t know what kind of a melody it was either. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the words he chose to sing and the message that those words contained. Consider the words to “Ring around a Rosey” for instance.
Ring around a rosey,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
This nursery rhyme is about the bubonic plague known as the Black Death. Medical thought at the time was that flowers or posies would purify the air of its bad diseases. "Ring around a rosey" refers to a pinkish circle that would form on a victims body prior to turning black. "Ashes, ashes" refers to burning those things that belonged to a person that had died of the plague. "We all fall down" relates to what most folk experienced if they fell victim to the bubonic plague — death. So this song sounds kind of cheery - but it’s actually really depressing if you understand the words.
From the looks of it, I would assume that Isaiah’s song didn’t sound like “Here we go round the Roseberry Bush” or “Skip to my Lou”. (Although it might have been somewhat satirical to sing “it’s hedge will be destroyed” and “it will be trampled” to a song like “Skip to My Lou.”) What we’re here to do today is not to debate over what the style of music may have been - but to consider what the words had to say. They talk about the relationship between God and His people - the Israelites.
Listen to the Words of Isaiah’s Vineyard Song
I. The words of effort
The first part of the verse sing about the time and effort that the Lord put into planting His vineyard - the Israelites. My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. It wouldn’t hurt for us to look into the imagery of Isaiah’s song by examining for a moment the picture that he is drawing. A commentator by the name of Young said this of Palestine:
The Arabs have a proverb to the effect that when God created the world an angel flew over it carrying a bag of stones under each arm. As he flew over Palestine, one bag broke so that half of all the stones in the world are in Palestine. He who has traveled in this land will appreciate the enormity of the labor involved in clearing a field of stones. The wine vat was a lower part of the trough, often carved out of the solid stone, and served to receive the juice of the grapes which had been pressed down or trampled on in the upper trough or wine press. The grapes of Palestine are remarkable, both for their size and quality.
From this historical viewpoint of the ground of Palestine, we can perhaps more greatly appreciate the picture that Isaiah is trying to draw for us - for the work that the Loved One - the Lord - went through to plant a vineyard.
All of these terms are, of course, symbolic. The fertile hillside reminds me of the hill that Jerusalem was built on - it was a fortress of sorts - a seemingly impenetrable one. When David originally went to attack it and take it over the Jebusites taunted them by saying in 2 Samuel 5:6, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” The fertility of the ground and the watchtower could also be interlaced. The Israelites were given fertility in their ground from the Word of God which they were given through the prophets. Isaiah 55:10-11 says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. These prophets also served as God’s watchtower. When God talked to Ezekiel in chapter 33 he referred to him as a “watchman.” He said in verses 7-9, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.” The watchtower warned the people and spoke to them regularly through the temple that was established in Jerusalem. The stones that were cleared would refer to the spiritually dead Canaanites who occupied the land prior to the Israelites arrival - who were taken out by the Lord. The hedge that God put around the Israelites would be referring to the special Law that served to separate the Israelites from all of their surrounding nations. The working of the ground would refer to the way that God cultivated the hearts of the Israelites through the Law and the Gospel that was dug into their hearts through the words of the prophets. On top of this, He made the Jews as the choicest vines. God made them into very talented people.